58) Super Sunday, 2/17: 4:40 – 4:50 AM – “Rats Out’a the Walls!”
As Big Sonny’s head mercenary sank, weeping, to his knees beside the great, ruined Dominator atop his crushed employer, even the overhanging looters… perhaps sensing an enormous turn of the cards in their struggle… melted away into the numerous doors emptying onto the catwalks snaking hither and thither above the One World Mall. On an inexplicable impulse, Vicki Gordon took Craig’s left hand in her own, placed her right palm firmly on his behind and shoved…
“Now!” she whispered.
“Now, we have a chance to get out of this place. To live…”
So confident earlier, so primed with teenaged impulses, Craig Synch now stammered, looked down, afraid for himself and hating his humiliation. “I’d be fired,” he finally said.
Vicki made a performance of sniffing the rancid perfume of the One World Mall, creeping in under the heavy metal shutters. “Smell that? It’s burning, outside. Do you want to be fired, fired on or on fire?”
“OK…” Craig said, hesitantly, “but where do we go?”
“Up!” And, as Craig glared at her as if Vicki were a madwoman, she added “I spend three lunch hours a week at FairPlay, on the rock climbing wall, and I climb on weekends, so you can go first and I’ll spot you… unless you’re afraid of being shown up by… a girl…”
Affronted by the charge, Craig replied “I ain’t afraid…”
The eyes of Giga-Plex were all still fixed on its founder and CEO, squashed like the wicked witch of Waco beneath the remains of the giant Romanian television, blood and plasma oozing together in common rivulets that hissed and crackled with baleful Transylvanian lightnings. Captain Capps had finally risen and begun pacing, attempting to activate his dead cellphone – Mark Tenison simply stared at the spot. Effie Lou lay sprawled on the floor, atop a fallen pile of DVDs and Faubourg, the fixer, sat wearily atop a boxed forty-four inch plasma. He’d grabbed a pistol from one of the dead invaders, holding it listlessly with the other hand over his chest – face white as Elmer’s Glue – his thoughts a cesspool of lost money, turmoil and suicide. The rest… salesclerks, cashiers and stockroom help, Big Sonny’s clowns, musicians and the other Giga-Grrrlz, Rae and Crystal, and the delegation from the FCC were also staring at scene of the catastrophe, at Henry the Robot… wheels hopelessly entangled in the mangled innards of the Dominator as he bucked and swayed in place, bleating “How may I help you?… may I help you!” or raising their gaze to eye-level, at the lesser projection, LCD and plasma sets of the remaining henge. His devil’s duty done, Evan Augsberg had disappeared, replaced by notices and Emergency Alert footage from across the country; chaos and death and little red flags… Providence, Milwaukee, Denver… and a flock of overnight second and third-tier newscasters, braying for attention on second and third rate televisions…
Climbing their own tier of televisions, finding easy hand and footholds in the supporting shelving, Craig replied: “This ain’t bad…”
“Helluva lot easier than rock climbing,” Vicki grunted. “These racks are bolted into the wall, and there isn’t anything else to come tumbling down on top of us… we hope…”
Fred Faubourg, eyes wet and blurry with self-pitying tears, looked up, color returning to his cheeks. “There’s a couple of the bastards. Bastards! You’ve just murdered the greatest ambassador of American entrepreneurial genius since Henry Ford…”
His quavering tones brought a look of sympathy from Captain Capps – who also noted that the two apparent Giga-vested looters… probably hiding behind a beam… were trying to get out of Giga-Plex, hence, not worth his own precious ammunition.
“Technically, they’re not the killers… it was that other guy,” Lester told the lobbyist, “or the Romanians, or the robot but, if it rocks your world, mister, you take the shot…”
So Fred Faubourg, a mediocre duck hunter with limited handgun experience, rose, aimed and began firing at the two fleeing apparent zombie deserters, backs necessarily turned. His first shot was a lucky near miss on Craig, the bullet so rattling the metal stanchions that he let go with one hand…
“Suck it up!” Vicki hissed. “Only six feet more to go…”
“But they’re shooting at us…”
“If they miss,” she admonished him, “keep going. If they hit… well, nothing we can do about that.”
So Craig rediscovered the handhold and continued climbing. A second shot went wild, then a third. Craig reached the catwalk, pulled himself up and started crawling away, but the fourth shot struck Vicki, who gave a yelp of pain, momentarily losing, then recovering, her grip as the corporate vest slid off her shoulder and fluttered to the floor. Grinning broadly, Faubourg took a more careful aim and fired… but heard only an empty click. Watching the slender figure swaying halfway onto the catwalk, he turned to Capps with a rueful smile…
“Think I scored a hit. Sounded like a girl… wonder what the fuck she was doing, up there with all them other maniacs. Gimme some more ammo!”
“Same as the rest,” deduced the Screaming Eagle. “Came by to shop with her husband or boyfriend… that other one, up there… maybe got stuck in line, got pissed off, maybe heard over the radio or TV that there was a riot going on and wanted in on the excitement. Or maybe just wanted a free television to replace the one the government took away the other night…”
“One more round in the chamber… just one more… and I’da had her head on my wall…” Faubourg lamented. “Couldn’t you let me borrow your gun?”
“Sorry, Mac, I gotta conserve ammo, and,” Captain Capps added, “those as are goin’ the other way aren’t the problem, it’s those coming down that are. And they’re not zombies, you know? They’re just Americans. They’ve been lied to and ripped off… some of ‘em have seen their good jobs disappearing and now the government’s taking away their Superbowl…”
“Which that fuckin’ pussy of a President gave back…” snarled Vern Cooth who, with Tenison, had rushed to the lobbyist’s defense.
“Yeah, but they don’t know it. Well, looks like my job is toast…” Lester added…
Sheer terror coursed through the store manager. “You’re not going to desert us?”
“I would, if I could,” Capps explained, “but I can’t. Everything about this deal has been fucked up from the beginning. So I’m going to try to stay alive, which is about the best that can be expected, under the circumstances… isn’t it… maybe keep a few other people alive in the process. Maybe even you… if you co-operate…”
Above, Vicki grasped a rails of the catwalk as Craig hesitated… then scurried back.
“Were you hit?” he felt obligated to ask, uselessly.
“In the ankle,” Vicki explained, trying to pull herself up, but failing. “Fuck – it hurts, I can’t make it…”
Craig peered out over the rail… and straight down into the astonished, then enraged face of Mark Tenison… he grasped her wrists and pulled her up through the rails, onto the catwalk…
“Can you walk?”
“I can crawl. Fuck!” Vicki grunted. “Better off, make a smaller target this way…”
Below Mark Tenison pointed, screaming and berating the disloyal Captain…
“They’re from here! Employees! Traitors…” he screeched, “…they’re getting away! Shoot them! That’s an order… shoot them!”
“You don’t give orders,” Capps replied contemptuously. “The only man who could is dead. And I’m not wasting ammo shooting the wounded, let alone a couple of your kids with initiative to save their own asses…”
Tenison slapped his forehead… hard… was everybody going crazy?...without realizing he still held the pistol and exuding a yelp of anguish. What the hell had happened to loyalty, to teamwork? And then, noticing that one of the dead looters in the pile of sacrifices to the wall of televisions was holding a gun in his cold, dead fingers, he lunged for it, aimed, fired…
“Traitors!” he kept hollering. “Traitors!”
Craig and Vicki kept crawling for their lives while bullets flew above their heads until, at last, the manager was out of ammo – an oblong welt rising on his forehead. They lurched through an open, creaking door above the Sputnik Station, then tumbled into a corridor full of a half-dozen muttering zombies holding black plastic bags of loot, several of whom muttered “Hey!” as Craig looked up, apprehensive…
One had just crawled up from Kravjak’s, wearing three dress shirts, one over the other – pricetags still dangling from the sleeves. He glanced at Vicki’s foot, saying: “That looks bad…”
Another zombie, holding three fishing poles in his left hand, disagreed. “Not too bad, otherwise you couldn’t even crawl. Hurt much?”
Vicki nodded, “A little. Anybody happen to have any disinfectant?”
“Better!” another wallcrawler said, holding up a 1.75 liter bottle of Grey Goose vodka from his stash.
“Hey, that’s good stuff,” another in a beige sweater, like one of those that the deceased children’s host, Mister Rogers, used to wear. “You can’t…”
“It’s mine,” replied the man with the vodka. “ I can do what I want.”
“That’s the American way,” agreed Pricetags.
The wound was bloody, but not crippling… Vicki screamed when the expensive liquor was splattered on her ankle while Pricetags removed a white shirt from his bag and tore it in strips…
“Thought you were gonna use that to look for a job,” sneered Mister Rogers.
“As if that’d pan out in this econ’my…” Pricetags muttered, “hey, I kin get plenty of others…”
With her ankle bound and disinfected, Vicki could hop… if not exactly walk... with the aid of the stoutest fishing pole that another of the looters had snapped in half and surrendered to her. Along the corridor came three other young men, wearing red bandannas that marked them as members of the Nation. They carried guns and bulging plastic bags of their own…
“Chill out, we ain’t here to jack… that’s them other thugz down there doin’ that shit. Hardasses from the Southeast…”
“They get you…” asked a kid who was no older than fifteen, “or was it them bastards in the store? Anybody got anything to eat?”
Fishing Pole reached into his bag. Got into the candy store… doin’ Easter a little early, this year…” his voice trailed off…
He pulled a giant white chocolate cross out of his bag, removed it from the festive, holiday box, and began breaking off pieces while the remains of the Grey Goose was passed round…
“Din’t know they sold white chocolate,” Pricetags said, cautiously. “So, where you headed…”
“Heard there might be tires left in that garage,” said the leader of the pack, who was wearing a new jersey with the number 87 – belonging to the Skins’ receiver Randle, hero of Green Bay. “Mine are about worn down to nothin’…”
“Might be, but I heard that the place was on fire. Feels hot, that way,” Mister Rogers pointed down the corridor… “smells…”
“Man, this is fucked…” allowed the third member of the Nation, “ain’t nobody getting’ into the Giga-Plex. All I wanted to do was cop a plasma, kick back and watch the game…”
Vicki looked up – Craig shook his head…
Number 87 was still mad. “Like I thought I was gonna get one of them rebates they’re givin’ out after I hadda quit work at the chicken place to take care of Granma, then they tell me I don’t get one ‘cause I’m not workin’, like I’m a bum? She can’t even clean herself no more, so I have to do that… can’t watch her programs… now… and I’m a bum?”
“They don’t need us anymore,” said Fishing Poles. “Politicians had their way, they’d gas us… like those dogs an’ cats that nobody wants. Say they love their middle class, ain’t gonna be no more middle class anymore… gonna be millionaires, a few, and then millions that nobody needs, living off the land.” He hoisted his liberated sporting gear with a toothy smile. “I’m goin’ down to the shore, past the naval base - gonna be one of those survivors living off the land. Or uh, the water. Eatin’ fish…”
“Yeah, but then… meanwhile… first, how do we get out of here?” Craig wondered aloud.
“Hee-heeeah!” said the zombie presently swigging vodka. “Ain’t you been listening to Evan Augsberg, boy? Nobody getting out of here, we gonna burn! Burn for our sins, everybody’s sins comin’ out like…” and he pointed to one of the luminescent red rats from Petworld, scampering down the catwalk, “like them rats… rats… from outa the walls…”
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